Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Finding Life in a Theology of Death

We religious folks have a long history of conveying ourselves as morbid and lifeless. We seem to ooze an aura of preoccupation with death. Abundant life? Hardly.

For centuries, the Roman Catholic church dominated culture in the West. At the center of their focus is the body on the cross - or crucifix - which is a corpse. The mass is essentially a re-crucifixion of Christ every week. Catholic assembly, music, monastic life and theology are basically morbid. So are its most ardent adherents. Monty Python satirized this well in The Holy Grail, showing the hooded monks engaged in Gregorian chants while smacking themselves in the head with wooden slabs.

Reformed Protestants, being a reactionary group against Roman Catholic doctrine, found the most disagreements in the areas of doctrine that have to do with Christ's death. Penal substitution, justification, atonement, propitiation, all have to do with death. These were emphasized most - and still are for some reason - because they were the chief differences. The Protestant cry of "He is risen" focuses not on the power of the new life, but serves mostly in removing the corpse from the crucifix. What's left as the central focus is the tool of crucifixion, the cross, an instrument of death. As a result, the Reformed are also morbid.

Arminians and other pietists play the reductionism of justification to a formulaic prayer. Repeat after me and you have eternal life. They don't understand the transformation. But like a mortician, they can apply some makeup and a nice suit to the corpse, via man made rules, and it can look like a Christian. Legalism and self-righteousness decimate the abundant life, resulting in the morbid.

This brings me to the Charismatics. Wow, what a difference. They place the focus on the resurrection and power of the Spirit. Their appearance is much different. Far from morbidity, they portray life. But their great blind spot is in the true doctrines of death from which life springs. Mired too much in Arminian and holiness theology of atonement, they tend to focus most on the appearance of signs of life, as opposed to the reality behind them. Like Simon the sorcerer in the book of Acts, too many try to buy the fruit of the Spirit, and without the discernment of the apostle who rebuked him, the Charismatics tend to let anybody in, as long as they can babble like an idiot or make a good claim. This is why so many of the fallen evangelical leaders in public scandal are Charismatics. The dressed up Arminian stiff simply has puppeteer's strings attached, and it can dance. But it, too, is morbid.

At some point in the future (as a postmillenialist I believe the church is still in its infancy) I'm hoping we'll see a church that borrows the strengths of each of these groups. Unity from the Catholics, strong doctrine of Christ from the Reformed, holiness from the pietists and resurrection power from the Charismatics. We may see real life after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment